elected a fellow of his college in 1706. He was for a short time curate of Trumpington, Cambridge. He was better known for his musical tastes than for excellence in studies, and was afterwards nicknamed ‘fiddling Conyers’ by Bentley, then master of Trinity. Middleton was one of the thirty fellows who on 6 Feb. 1709–10 petitioned the Bishop of Ely as visitor of Trinity College to take steps against Bentley. Middleton vacated his fellowship a few months later by his marriage to Mrs. Sarah Drake, the rich widow of ‘Counsellor Drake’ of Cambridge, and daughter of Mr. Morris of Oak Morris in Kent. He held for a short time the small rectory of Coveney in the Isle of Ely, which was in his wife's gift (he was presented to this in 1726, see Nichols, Lit. Anecd. v. 700). On 3 July 1710 he was one of a party of ten who dined at the Rose Tavern in Cambridge with the members for the university, and drank the health of Sacheverell. They were interrupted by the senior proctor, Richard Laughton, tutor of Clare, who made a formal complaint against them to the heads of houses for disorderly revelling. The authorities treated the complaint as frivolous, but Middleton some time afterwards had to explain that the feast was moderate, and the tavern bill only 1s. 6d. a head. In 1717 George I visited the university, when the degree of D.D. was conferred upon thirty-two persons, including Middleton. Bentley, as regius professor of divinity, demanded a fee of four guineas from each of the new doctors in addition to the established ‘broad-piece.’ Middleton, after some dispute, consented to pay, taking Bentley's written promise to return the money if the claim should be finally disallowed. He was then created doctor. Having vainly applied for a return of the fee, he sued for it as a debt in the vice-chancellor's court. After various delays and attempts to make up the quarrel, the vice-chancellor issued a decree (23 Sept. 1718) for Bentley's arrest. Bentley's refusal to submit to this decree led to further proceedings and to his degradation from all his degrees by a grace of the senate on 18 Oct.
Arthur Ashley Sykes [q. v.] soon afterwards published letters protesting against Bentley's degradation, to which a reply was made by Sherlock, who dwelt upon the original demand for fees. Middleton now took up the attack in what he called a ‘full and impartial account’ of the late proceedings, condemning Bentley's conduct as to the fees and in the management of the college. Middleton showed his great powers as a writer of bitter and plausible invective. Two more pamphlets from Sykes were met by two further replies from Middleton, in which Sykes and other supporters of Bentley were roughly handled, especially for bringing up the old scandal about the dinner at the Rose. The pamphlets were anonymous, and Middleton, being hitherto unknown as a writer, was not suspected until he acknowledged his first tract upon its general success. A final reply, written or dictated by Bentley himself, closed this controversy. Middleton was still keen for revenge. His friend John Colbatch [q. v.], Bentley's most determined opponent, was afraid to give the master a pretext for expelling him from his fellowship. He was glad, however, to supply Middleton with materials for ‘On the Present State of Trinity College,’ which was published in 1719. Bentley, having immediately obtained powers from the seniority, brought an action against the publisher. Middleton at once issued an advertisement (dated 9 Feb. 1720), claiming the pamphlet as his own. Bentley continued to prosecute the bookseller till Middleton made a declaration of his authorship before witnesses. Bentley then laid an information against him in the king's bench, founded upon a passage in the pamphlet about the impossibility of obtaining redress in ‘any proper court of justice in the kingdom.’ The proceedings were slow, and meanwhile Middleton took advantage of Bentley's proposals for an edition of the New Testament to attack him in a sharp pamphlet. Bentley replied, using terms of gross abuse directed chiefly against his other enemy, Colbatch, to whom he chose to attribute the authorship. Bentley's reply was condemned by the heads. Colbatch brought an action against him, and Middleton wrote a longer rejoinder, in which he is admitted to have made some very good points, in language far more decent than his opponent's. He is said, on doubtful tradition, to have been helped in the discussion by Charles Ashton [q. v.], master of Jesus College. It has been frequently asserted that his criticisms gave the deathblow to Bentley's project; but Monk shows this to be a ‘vulgar error’ (Monk, ii. 144, 147–9). Meanwhile, Middleton's case came on in the court of king's bench (Trinity term 1721), and he was found guilty of libel. Sentence was delayed. A few of his friends subscribed towards his expenses, and he obtained the intercession of ‘a certain great personage’ for a lenient sentence. The chief justice (Pratt) advised the two doctors to avoid scandal by a compromise, and Bentley finally accepted an apology. Middleton, however, had to pay his own costs and the taxed expenses of his opponent, which, as the balance paid by the college was 150l., were probably considerable. His friends, wishing